Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Brothers Barbarian

So, yeah, here's little gem of a web series: The Brothers Barbarian.

Show them some support to get some more episodes made.

Location Changes

I'm moving to Hot Springs, AR in late January.  If anybody knows of any games occurring in the area, please let me know (assuming space available) *OR*, if anybody has an online game (with space available) please let me know about that as well, so far, there seems to be very limited gaming activity in Hot Springs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Using Weather Effectively

No matter where you live on Earth, weather plays a role in your daily decision making.  So why is it that weather rarely affects a game?  The exception is when it plays the MAJOR role in the game.  I've played in two campaigns where the environment (specifically weather) was the key NPC and in both cases, it was a arctic type environment.  I've never lived in a bitterly cold environment or even visited a place where it got truly cold (well below freezing for extended periods of time) during that time of year (I've been to Canada, but during the summer).  I do, however, live in an area of the country where weather plays a very major role in day-to-day activities.  In the middle of the United States, we experience just about every kind of weather except for extended bitter cold and hurricanes.  Massive thunderstorms - check, flooding rains (sometimes flash flooding) - check, heavy snow - check, drought - check, extreme heat (and humidity) - check, below freezing temperatures for several days at a time - check, tornadoes - check (in an exponential fashion), earthquakes (though not massive damaging ones) - check, sudden significant temperature changes (up or down) - check, strong winds (greater than 30 mph) - check, major ice storms (power was out for large areas for weeks) - check.

Now, how come all these things that affect my everyday activity don't make it into affecting my activities in a campaign?  For one, I haven't seen to many good random weather generators that actually reflect real weather patterns (granted, even people with degrees, years of experience and massive computer simulations can't even really predict weather outside of a 72-hour window).  For two, weather really isn't very interesting from a story development perspective.  For three, the players (short of super powerful games) can't really do anything about the weather.  For four, it's a pain in the butt to try to keep up with when there are hp totals and saving throws to worry about.

Ok, so if you are gonna crap all over your own argument, why bother bringing it up?  Well, because weather is an encounter builder.  If you are going to use an elemental in a game, why not do it during a thunderstorm (air or water) or a dust storm (air or earth)?  Make the scene interesting, memorable - nobody remembers that time they saw a couple of elementals just hanging out, but they might (should) remember the time they were caught in a flash flood and saved by the water elemental who was surfing the canyon.

All that's great (no, not really), but that's not really using weather effectively.  Ok, so let's use it to affect the game. Want to slow down a party's trek to a given location - snow/ice/floods.  Want to create tension in a region - extended drought or persistent heavy fog.  Want to get rid of a base of operations to force the players to be more self-sufficient - hurricane along acoast or an EF5 tornadoThe point is to make things interesting and different so that your players aren't tromping through the same thing over and over again.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dwarven Monk Enclave

So, I got to thinking about how an enclave of dwarven monks would function.  Considering the hierarchy of dwarven loyalty (family-clan-home) I figure that a group of monks would have to mirror that loyalty structure to be effective.  I also think it is important to take into account dwarven style (hair, beard, tattoos, scarring/branding, attire, etc.) and dwarven perspective (hatred of orcs, loathing of elves, experience against giants) in how they would describe and develop forms, techniques and styles.

Fundamentally, dwarves should make great monks once you redirect their racially innate commitments to the school/enclave/monastery and style.  In human martial arts, most practitioners will switch styles during their training to improve their overall knowledge and understanding, combining aikido with kenpo, judo with nin-jitsu and muay thai, etc. and etc. and etc.  But dwarves aren't know for their flexibility and adaptability or acceptance of others.  I think using the more traditional separation/competition between martial arts schools when creating the background for a dwarven monk school/enclave/temple/way would be very important.  Basically, each school/enclave/"way" is the right path of development and everybody else's "way" is weak and wrong.  And, there are always going to be individuals/groups who disagree with one way of thinking and create a new way, thus creating at least 2 competing entities.

Some of the ideas I had for a naming convention for a dwarven monk enclave include:
Way of the Stone Fist (Dimond Axe, Iron Hammer)
Crouching Duergar/Hidden Drow (yes, I totally stole that format)
Order of the Mithril (Golden, Forged, Granite) Heart (Fist, Axe, Hammer)
Path of the Axe and Hammer (Swinging Axe, Crushing Hammer, Blunted Blade, Hammer and Anvil)

Dwarves are not know for their subtly and as such, I would not expect a monkish order to hide who or what they are.   Though they may be apt to wear more functional attire when traveling or doing daily activities, robes would probably be standard during organized events.  I suspect the leaders of an enclave would adorn their robes with indications of various accomplishments, status symbols and the like - jeweled accents, gold/silver/mithril thread/designs, possibly even jewelry of some sort.  I just don't see dwarven monks wearing austere attire. 

As for appearance and grooming standards, I can see various teachings being incorporated into different beard/hair designs.  One possible option could be using beard length/adornment similar to how human martial arts use a belting system (white-yellow-orange-purple-blue-green-brown-black) to indicate rank/skill.  Along those same lines, I can see scarring/branding being used to show commitment to a particular school/way in the same way American football and basketball players get their university or team logo tattooed/branded on themselves.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Scripted Events vs. Random Encounters

Scripted Event: events which occur based on a preset condition. 
The raid on the town occurs after nightfall once the heroes uncover the goblin's presence.

Random Encounter: event that occurs due to random chance/location/decision.
The party decides to explore a dire badger's lair while tracking the goblin's after the town raid.

Both of these things have a place at a gaming table in a fantasy world.  The issue is how to deal with them in an appropriate fashion.  

 Scripted Event - 
A GM should not have too many scripted events if he/she wants the players to feel like (or actually have agency) in the game.  How involved do you feel watching a movie (hint: watching a movie is a series of scripted events you have no control over)A large number of scripted events can be a major problem of heavy story based games, my rule of thumb is 3 per session *IF* they are necessary.  One at the beginning to set the tone and get the players hooked into the session, one in the middle to create drama for the climax scene (this one often is more about the players creating the scene than anything I do) and one at the end that is a cliff-hanger to keep the players thinking about the game through the down time.  However, if the GM/ST/DM runs from one event directly into the next, the players often feel like they are being railroaded to the climatic event the GM has already planned out - let the players figure out how to get from A to C by choosing to go through E, J and Q on their own, they will often create plenty of future game material along the way.  The same can often be the case in very long story arcs for any genre of game, but seems to be less necessary in sandbox-style games.

Random Encounter - 
Random encounters kill heavy story-based games.  Inevitably, one of the main PCs will get killed in a random encounter and the replacement PC never fits into the same position effectively.  "But without random encounters, how do you keep the tension up during a dungeon crawl/cross-country travel/forest adventure?"  I didn't say take them out completely, on the contrary, I think increasing the number of random encounters might actually be called for - just not combat oriented ones.  "But meeting merchants A1, A2 and A3 on a journey is boring."  It's only boring if the GM lets it get boring.  There is no limit to the types of random encounters a party can experience in any give environment - a gaze of beholders flies over; a core of elementals is seen (or felt if of the air variety); or just your random traveling snake-oil salesman - all serve to increase the anticipation and possibly open up new directions the game can move.  Whatever it is, make it something that is interesting enough to spend more than a few seconds describing.  "What if the players don't do anything?" So what if they don't, it's because they *chose* to do nothing, just as they can *choose* to do something.

"All that is great, but I still don't get why it really matters?"  It matters because if you do nothing but scripted events, the players never feel like a part of the action and so nothing they do matters.  If you do nothing but random events, the players feel like there is not real point to anything and nothing they do matters.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Trade Routes and Raiding

Granularity - the extent to which a system is broken down into small parts.

Does your world have functional granularity?  Do you worry about trade between nation-states?  Lots of games start with the premise of a trade route being disrupted or being ended (most of the time it is a vital substance and there is only one route).  Responding to this plot hook, players tend to fall into two categories, those that question why event X needs to be addressed and those that question how to resolve event X.  Aside: the groups that I game with fall roughly even on each side of this line, with many of the more experienced players asking the why part.

So how do you deal with these questions and get the party moving toward figuring out how to resolve event X?  Use an NPC to give them the answers, then give them the likely outcomes of each solution as seen from the NPC's perspective, but whatever you do, don't punish them for not doing what they are told is the best solution and don't reward them for doing exactly what they are told - think the opposite of Pavlov's dog.

What about when the party is not exactly good and decides to become raiders themselves?  Well, for one, make sure you have some valid trade routes and goods to be raided.  Also make sure there is some sort of militia or police force that protects these trade routes, otherwise why aren't they being raided all the time?

There are quite a few things to remember when a campaign moves in this direction.  What are the punishments for being caught raiding (both stealing and possibly murder)?  Is there a justice system in place or do the locals just take care of the problem?  What about if the raiders have "permission" to raid certain goods or attack certain traders but not others?  How fast does word spread of a specific trade route getting hit regularly?  How long can a route be raided before the traders take matters into there own hands or force the governments to get involved?

If you cannot answer these questions, then your game lacks some necessary granularity and you may want to rethink putting the players into this type of story arc.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta Test Weekend Review

SWTOR is an MMO.  SWTOR does a few things really well.  SWTOR does a few things not so well.  SWTOR will cut significantly into WoW's player base (probably for 6-months to a year).  SWTOR will not kill WoW, despite WoW losing subscriptions at a rate slightly below light speed.

The Good:
Character creation is fun.  The images are crisp and clean.  The classes are well differentiated.  The visuals are nice and some of the zones are quite impressive in scope and design.  The interface is solid and the controls respond rapidly and effectively.  Making decisions based on light/dark/neutral outcomes and how your crew responds to them is fun.

The Bad:
Just as with the Conan MMO, all the races have the same 4 basic physical structures, so the only real difference is cosmetics - horns, headtails, veils, cybernetic parts, hair styles, eye color, etc.  There is a ton of clipping on all kinds of things unless your video settings are tweaked perfectly to your video card and monitor.  The AI on some of the monsters moves them to directly behind you, then your AI spins you around to face them without spinning the camera view if you are in 3rd-person - annoying.  After coming back from a cut scene, the camera angle was often changed and wouldn't immediately respond once movement started.  No "meeting stones" or automated grouping features for the Heroic Challenges - yes, WoW's addition of that was a good thing for those of us who don't have 100's or 1000's of friends playing.  Some of the areas are to large for their own good, especially the space stations - there's no need to run for 5 minutes between skills, trainers and the space dock.

The Conclusion:
I'm 50/50 on becoming a SWTOR subscriber.  While playing it, I was really enjoying the story lines and looking forward to fights and making light/dark/neutral decisions.  Once I walked away from the computer, I didn't feel a need to get back to it as soon as possible.  Possibly because it was a beta test and I knew that nothing I did this weekend would matter and possibly because I'm a cheapskate and the idea of adding a monthly subscription (even if it is every 6 months) kinda bothers me.

So, I give Star Wars: The Old Republic (Beta Weekend) 6/10 lightsabers.  They have a lot to do in the 1 month and 6 days until release.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic

So I got an invite to participate in the weekend "stress-test" of SWTOR this weekend.  It starts Friday evening and concludes Sunday evening.  I'm anxious to see the graphics and play interface, but I'm more interested to see if they have come up with something better than "collect 15 Sarlacc tentacles" or "herd 10 Banthas into the stables" that has plagued MMOs since they began.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Using Divine Beings: The Good-BBEG

GMs seem to love using Demons and Devils in games as (or at usually) the BBEG.  This makes perfect sense, they have lots of powers, lots of survivability, lots of minions to wade through along the way, usually some good lewtz and likely some Achilles' Heel that makes for fun games and great adventure stories.  There isn't much room for discussion on "if" the BBEG is truly bad - they are the embodiment of evil made incarnate on some outer plane.

On the other hand is the Divine Being that is working counter to the party's goals.  Now this isn't a true BBEG situation (at least not at first).  Initially it is probably more of a speed bump for the party.  However, knowing that a being is "good" but getting in the way is a great way to get a party wound up and invested in their characters and actions.  Maybe the party is very lawful and the divine being functions in a very chaotic but ultimately good way - maybe the party is barely good and not really lawful, but the divine being is super good and super lawful - is the party really going to risk upsetting the "HIGHER POWERS OF GOOD" just to get a speed bump out of the way?  Unlikely.

I'm a big fan of the spider-web style of gaming and while it doesn't mesh perfectly with a sandbox environment, they can be very complimentary.  So when the plan of the game begins to take shape, remember to include variables that can be adapted to the party's decisions.  This is where the Good-BBEG (GBBEG), they don't start out as the BBEG, they may not finish as the BBEG or even ever actually be the BBEG.  What they become is the *problem* that the party always has to consider when they come to a major decision.

They (GBBEG) cannot be used to often or the party will (rightfully) consider it a big problem and figure a way to neutralize it OR begin to feel like the divine being is a GM pet to be used whenever the GM wants to foil the party's plans.  The GBBEG also cannot get involved in everything the party is doing or actually help the party in any meaningful way.  The GBBEG has to be a BBEG in every way to the party, but not to anybody else.  If the party saves the town from a horde of orcs, the GBBEG gets the credit, even if all they did was herd the peasants into a building to protect them (thus risking them all if the building caught on fire); if the party finds a big treasure haul, the GBBEG shows up to claim it as stolen goods from someone higher up; etc.

What happens eventually is that the party has to find a way to either extricate themselves from involvement with the GBBEG or find something better for the GBBEG to do - usually dealing with a true BBEG.  The beauty of this is that then the GM gets to bring the GBBEG back as a new BBEG (corrupted from defeating a true BBEG) or as a more powerful GBBEG as the party advances.  If the party decided to remove the GBBEG, well then they have to deal with the consequences of pissing off whoever the GBBEG was working for - the GBGBBEG (great-big good-big bad evil guy).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Using Dire Creatures

Dire creatures are to heroic story games what heroes are to heroic story games - larger than life.  You didn't just fight a rat, you fought a DIRE RAT - still only has 5 hit points.

Take a moment and compare what you do in your game to the real world.  When was the last time you saw any non-domesticated creature with more than 1-2-3-4 hit points, outside of a zoo or on TV?  When was the last time you saw something that viewed you as a potential meal?  Would you really want to get close enough to poke it with a sword?

I'm lucky, I live in a *relatively* developed area of the United States (Northwest Arkansas), but I can go 20 miles in just about any direction and be in a heavily wooded, adventure-type setting.  I also lived in northern Arizona for several years, where I got to see some Javelinas running wild (they even look a little like dire rats).  As such, I've been deer, squirrel, rabbit, duck, and quail hunting - maybe a deer has more than 4 HP...  I have seen bear, coyote, wolf, wild boar and wildcat tracks all around areas where we regularly camp - yes, you can drive there, but you need a 4-wheel drive.  What I have never seen is a Dire Bear, Dire Wolf or Dire Boar - which I'm grateful for, though I'll take my .30-06 rifle over a sword/shield any day.

So think about this the next time you decide to put a dire animal in a game - it is the heroic adventurer of that species.  Try not to let it be just a *filler* fight or useless random encounter that doesn't get across the importance of the fact that at 1st-level, a dire rat isn't just a big rat, it's a DIRE RAT (the heroic 1st level Fighter of the rat kingdom) - that still only has 5 hit points (more than the party wizard).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Using Existing Worlds

From Greyhawk to Garweeze Wurld (the difference is subtle I  know), Faerun to Krynn, many of us have a favorite world to host adventuring parties.  Perhaps, that world was the first D&D book we read, or we liked some aspect of it better, dragonlances or spellfire, mega-dungeons or underdark.  Whatever the reason, most of our custom worlds draw heavily from these famous locales.

One of the guys in our Wed. gaming group was relating a story from a Star Wars game where they "killed" Darth Vader.  My first thought was why did the GM allow that to happen, then I thought, why did he even put the game in that timeline?  The first answer is obvious, he was a decent GM and gave his players agency to do what they wanted.  The second answer is more interesting...

We obviously hold dear our childhood memories, I love Transformers and still have about 100 or so, some in their original boxes and I enjoyed the recent TF movies, despite the liberties taken with the original story and personalities tied to the various characters.  For some reason, we can accept these changes if the budget is big enough, but we can't handle it when our friend's do it.  Why is that?  I can't speak for all gamers, but generally speaking, gamers are smart, diligent and respectful of the source material, yet fundamentally flawed in their approach to "the rest of the world."

So why run a game in our favorite world and favorite timeline, knowing that the players are eventually going to *dink* with something big?  Well, we are most familiar with it, we don't have to do a lot of work (since we've already done the work of reading the stories) to build the world and we know what is going to happen - or at least *think* we do.

So my suggestion to you new GMs/DMs/STs is don't run (or ruin) a game in your favorite world and your favorite timeline, leave that to the game developers and authors.  Use their stories to build your world's background or set up stuff yourself to make those stories your world's future.

You will get far more satisfaction from figuring out how everything fits together, how all the governments work, how the ecology came to be doing it yourself.  And, if you spend enough time, and get it polished well enough, you might even consider publishing it, becoming one of those people who really does get to decide what happens in a beloved world.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Third times the charm - maybe

If something unusual happens once - it's an oddity.  If that same event happens twice in a short enough period of time - it's strange.  When that event happens a third time, it begins to worry me. 

For those of you who don't know me, I work in IT - tech support for an engineering department at a major university.  In just over the past week, I've now seen 3 hard drives all drop their boot sectors or primary partition.  Having one hard drive do this isn't all that rare or unusual, but 3 in a week is very odd.  To make matters more interesting, they were all from different OS versions - Windows XP, Windows 7 32-bit and Windows 7 64-bit.  The drives ranged in age from 8 years to 2 years and size from 40GB to 500GB.  The one common thread - they are all from Seagate/Maxtor - though that partnership is relatively recent.

I'm just wondering if somebody has figured out how to modify StuxNet.  If this is the case, we are about to see a really major problem. 

My other thought is tied to some EM problem, either in our atmosphere or from solar emissions - but why these drives and not other "easier" things like jumpdrives, laptops or cell phones?

Actually, it's probably nothing and just a coincidence that I should chalk up to having a decade of IT experience and seeing to many conspiracy theory movies.

Think I'll go make a foil hat just in case.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scotch - a drink unlike any other

A little more than a decade ago a friend of mine spent the summer in the UK.  I looked after his place, mowing his yard, collecting his mail and making sure that everything went as it was supposed to.  In thanks, he got me a bottle of scotch: 17 year-old Glengoyne single malt.  I have been in love with scotch ever since.

Today I opened a bottle of McClelland's Highland single malt.  It is quite good, perhaps the best I've had since that first bottle, of course it might also be that I just needed a good drink to take the edge off of having turned in a case study, research paper, 2 mid-terms and various homeworks in the last 7 days.

Regardless, I thought it worthy of giving a review:
Nose - fresh and full with a slight fruit aroma
Body - rich and enduring
Palate - a bit salty, but my tongue appreciated the experience
Finish - smooth and lasting

Over ice and breathing, it is something I will enjoy on the back porch for several evenings to come.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why we play what we play

The summer didn't go the way I thought or hoped it would.  Now the fall isn't going the way I thought it would.

This has lead me to question why I participate in gaming.  Is it really fun?  Is it what I want to do?  Is this how I want to spend my free time?  Do I really enjoy rpgs or do I just like hanging out with my peers?  Would I prefer a tactical combat rps (Pathfinder) or a cinematic story (Vampire) or a rules-light hackfest (OSR), maybe a miniatures combat game (BattleTech) or a ccg (Magic) or a non-ccg (Dominion)?  Would I gleen more satisfaction from watching football on any given Sunday?

I cannot answer these questions with any confidence.  About the only thing I can say with any certainty is that I know that the kinds of games I run is the kinds of games I'd like to be playing in.  Which makes the question my wife (a licensed massage therapist) posed this weekend more interesting: "how can I feel my own massage to figure out if I'm doing a good job?"  She can't ever experience her own massage and I can't ever experience my own campaign.  All we can really do is ask for feedback from those we respect/trust to give us honest evaluations.  We can "sample" little bits of our work - working a forearm/leg, recording a game session; we can never experience the full thing.

So back to the original question - what to do?

Maybe I'll just go hide behind grad school till I figure things out.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Anxiety for upcoming games

There are a couple of games coming out really soon that I am more anxious for than in past years.  I'm not really sure why I'm excited, I just know that I am.

I can't stop thinking about Leviathans from Catalyst Game Labs.  I think my excitement here is that I'll be in on the early stages of a miniatures game, something I haven't done before.  I've even started a basic fiction blog related to this game:  USS Flag

I'm excited about Star Wars: The Old Republic simply because I know so many people that plan to play it.  Being an MMO, having lots of real-life friends playing the same game makes for a much more enjoyable experience.

And to be a bit more mundane and mainstream, NFL Fantasy Football starts this week.

Monday, August 29, 2011

End: The DJ Promo

Fellow gamer and friend End: The DJ is up for "Best International DJ" at The Cyber Culture Music Award.  Spare a few moments and drop a vote for him.

On a side, note, classes have started back for the fall and I'm taking 2 masters classes this term, so please forgive me if there aren't as many updates as were occurring over the summer.  Once October gets here, I should have more time to spend on gaming.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Arcanis - Review

Arcanis from Paradigm Concepts is a bit of fresh air in the tabletop RPG market.

It's not as rules heavy as D&D 3.5/Pathfinder and not as infantile as D&D 4th Ed.  It brings back some mechanics from early rpgs like speed factor of actions affecting when you go next and gives some interesting color to the bland longsword/mace/longbow weapon selections.  It also includes fire-arms as a standard weapon option, though I still contend that the 875' range on a flintlock pistol is a bit silly.

But what makes it better than most other rpg off-shoots is it effectively does away with character classes!  You wanna be a gun-shooting thief, ok, you wanna be a mace wielding mage, no problem.  These mechanics throw the tried-and-true method of protect the mage, and standard tank/healer/dps/cc 4-man parties out the window.

Pedro Barrenechea ran our demo and we got to see some of the more intricate mechanics, but our space was limited and not exactly favorable for an extended game session, so I will hold final judgement on the game until I've had a chance to play a full game-session.
The one point they kept coming back to was that they don't ever want to release a 2nd edition that invalidates the original game.  Seems they got burned by Hasbro/WotC with the release of 4th ed.  A most honorable notion, yet I cannot help but be cynical to decisions made when hungry versus decisions made while greedy.

They did have several tools to make turn tracking easier, the dial below is simple and helpful.  The image at the top of the blog has 6 tracking dials, a master tracking dial and is make from white-board material, so you can write/erase it easily.  Handy, but dangerous if you are using a wet-erase miniatures mat and dry erase markers at the same table.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rune Age - Review

Rune Age - the next in a line of non-ccg, psuedo deck building games from Fantasy Flight Games.  We got the opportunity to demo it at GenCon.

The set-up is simple, pick one of the 4 races - Elves, Human, Beastmen, Undead to play, collect some coins, collect some troops, buy/win a stronghold, take over a neutral city or two and defeat the BBG/other player/or whatever other *win* condition exists - there are 4 preset games in the core box.

There are effectively 2 resources, coin and influence - neither is particularly large in the core set, but I suspect it will inflate like all games.

The dynamics of each race is unique but opposed by one of the other races.  The Undead pulls many of their troops from the discard pile while the Humans pull a lot of their power from the active deck.  The Beastmen get tougher when they have taken a little damage while the Elves seem to drop like flies, but pop right back up the next round.

Once you are ready to take on a "boss" level mob, you get to roll a die and hopefully you get a null, otherwise you lose  1-2 units and probably lose the fight.  It's simple, elegant in a way and irritating as all hell to be that close but fail.

The game we played was a demo that took about 2 hours and we didn't actually complete the game, but were getting very close.  I suspect once the rules are known and understood, a game can be completed in close to an hour.  I liked the game and I look forward to playing it again, but I'm hoping that we aren't seeing a situation where the market is being flooded with these types of games.

A big thanks to Matt Slowiak for overseeing our game and answering our inane (to him) questions.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Leviathans fan fic

Here's hoping I can get a little recognition for writing some fan fic for the new Leviathans game from Catalyst.

USS Flag

Hentai Cafe or "How we're all doomed"

GenCon 2011 had one event I had never attended before - the Hentai Cafe.  I was young, I was inexperienced, I was curious - BULLSHIT, I wanted to see some anime porn, /sigh, I knew better

What I didn't want to see was a bunch of guys leaping on chairs, screaming "pick me, pick me, pick me".  Why were they screaming this, well because instead of the original soundtrack for the selected scene, the MC would *sometimes* pick appropriately gendered individuals from the audience to voice-over the scene: 2 girls & 1 guy, 1 guy & 1 girl, 2 girls.  It was entertaining for about 45 minutes, then it became much more about observing the audience than the hentai.

Dude, you were watching the audience (about a 4-1 male to female ratio)?  Well, yeah, cause 45 minutes of anime porn is all I could really handle.  Ok, so what was interesting about the audience?  I'm glad you asked.  For starters, hentai is freaky stuff, aliens, demons, bondage, slavery, etc. in the form of cartoon characters - yes, I know it's anime, general readers may not be as familiar.  What's really freaky is when members of the audience says, "what the fuck?"  If you have to ask that question at a hentai show, you don't need to be at a hentai show.  Why's that?  Well for one, you should know to expect freaky shit.  The other reason is you've probably never had an adult relationship in which you trusted your partner (and in the process tried some freaky shit on each other), excepting of course uber-religious couples (why were you at the hentai event in the first place?).  Second, the countdown: 5-4-3-2-1-FUCK!!! is just sad and possibly a little misguided depending on the hentai.

On a positive note, the MC was great.  He was personable, funny, self-deprecating and generally seemed to be having a good time, even when he had "to piss like a race-horse."

So why are you saying we're doomed?  Because we even have things like this.  Look at all the *great* societies in history - Rome, Greece, Egypt.  Almost from the moment they started having enough "free-time" to come up with shit like this, their society came crashing down - granted it may take 100 years+ but in the scheme of things, that's not that long.  What are you saying?  I don't know, I'm still working on that.

When it comes to gaming geeks, you are generally dealing with some of the most creative, intelligent, socially-inept people on the planet.  On the Thursday GenCon opened, I would have put the combined intellect and problem solving skills of the people in the Indy Con Center against just about any other single building on the planet: NASA, JPL, the Pentagon, Microsoft HQ, Google HQ, Oracle HQ, you name it, I'll take the GenCon attendees.  Now to just figure out a way to focus all that potential into playing catch-up for the 800 years of progress the Dark Ages cost us.

Monday, August 15, 2011

WarMage Battlegrounds - Review

What do I want to play?  Hmm, I've only got about a 1/2 hour, I know: WarMage from Burst Online Entertainment.  Why would I want to play that?  Why wouldn't you want to play it is a better question?  It's free, it loads in a browser, you can play against people or the AI, you have upgrade options, customizable formations, multiple races, GenCon2011 (hint), you can limit the time to take a turn, player ranking system and you can always just quit if you need to.

So what's bad about it, well, so far I've played it on my home machine, which is old and underpowered, and the game was pretty choppy.  It was playable, but not exactly enjoyable.  My work machine is a different story - yes, I use my work computer for non-work related activities sometime, but it's newer and more powerful and I needed a comparison.  Also, it crashed out of IE 9 on one of my early games where I had burned the Dragon Scroll.  Finally, there is stuff to buy, with real money, but who really wants to do that - oh, just about everybody these days.

Supposedly, the ranking system is dynamic and a high ranked player doesn't get much for beating a low ranked player and a low ranked player might actually increase from playing a much higher ranked opponent.

The graphics are basic, like most browser based games, but good enough to easily distinguish between units, the units are distinct enough to really appreciate a kill on the opposing side or hurt on your side.  There are a ton of maps and I might recommend that they open source that feature for the fans to make some contributions.

I haven't spent enough time in the lobby areas to see what the idle chat is like, so I cannot speak on the other players, but I can say that any time I was in the lobby was time I wasn't playing the game, which I want to do.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nerd/Geek Rage

GenCon was a relatively mellow event considering the many thousands of folks attending.  However, I did get to see one really good Nerd Rage event that I think exemplifies all that is geeks being social.  Please allow me to set the scene:

A quiet movie room, the movies are running a little behind, about 10 minutes.  It is 12:10 am and the final movie was supposed to start at midnight - a classic D-grade horror flick Mother's Day.  The current show is a series of horror shorts, each 5-10 minutes.  The final one comes on: The Meat Eater, it's, umm over quickly enough and the Gencon employee goes to switch out the movies. 

A voice from the back of the room: "Hey, what are you doing?"  Well, obviously the movies are being changed out, cause the last movie has gone to credits.  Up from the seat comes the view, "I asked what you are doing?"  Nate chimes in: "putting in Mother's Day," he is ignored.  Now the bruiser (not, not really but he is rather large, maybe 6'2" and sporting a dedicated nerd's body, so probably 285+lbs) is demanding to know if the movie belongs to the employee - no dumbass, it doesn't she's just doing her job.  At this point, we are all informed that there are important plot points in the credits - and here I thought the important plot point was that the movie was over.  The berating goes on for a good 5 minutes, but now includes several GenCon employees - of course this is after midnight, so the supervisor has long since gone home.  We've also clearly established that the physical copy of these horror shorts does not belong to any of the employees, who are simply doing their job and that the showings are already behind schedule.

Whatever dude, Mother's Day was much funnier and more interesting that the 7-minute horror short that just finished, no matter how many plot points were revealed in the credits (I've had 10 second dreams that had more plot points).

On the flip side of nerd rage is nerd pity.  A *nice* GenCon staffer begins talking.  This takes the form of being told that my bag, that is sitting at the side of my chair, pinned between a window, my chair and Jason's chair, though not actually touching my chair and with a very small path available to get to it, is too far away and that I need to move it closer because somebody might steal it.  Ok, I'm at a convention with 20-25-30k people, if I leave a bag on a table or even in a chair, I could see somebody grabbing it.  But seriously, the guy sitting at the table next to us, with his shoes off and feet in his chair really needed to put his shoes on - cause you never know what people bring in from the street - /facepalm.  One of the best quotes of the week comes from him, "how long do I have to put my shoes on?"

The next day, I see the same staffer telling a man in a wheelchair to move to the side of the hallway so that he didn't get run over - you know the dangers of stampeding nerds.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Leviathans - Review

Yes, oh yes, this is fun.  Not in a "let's just play a game and have fun" manner, and not in a "spend hours customizing, planning and executing strategy" manner.  This is fun in a let's combine pretty much every aspect of table-top games: miniatures (pre-painted), customizable paint jobs, hex-grids, movement rules, battleships, elevation (3D combat), rockets/torpedoes, hit points, localized damage, variable damage, rolling dice, miss chance, repair ability, effective unit scaling, FLYING SHIPS, etc.

Leviathans is all of the above.

Yup, flying ships.  It would seem that Tesla figured out how to use his coil system to create anti-gravity and the navies of the world took that technology and "flew" with it.  The Wright brothers never bothered with Kitty Hawk in this time-line.

What it isn't is cheap.  $80 for the base game, English vs. French, several destroyers, couple cruisers and a battleship for each side.  $40 for each *faction* expansion - Prussian, Russian, Italian, American, Austro-Hungarians (corrected from Chinese), Japanese are already planned.  I can also see an opportunity to include a Merc/Pirate faction.  At least you don't have to worry about terrain.

I tried to hate this game - mainly because I hate spending money.  I can't, I didn't and I'm totally hooked.  The minis are well done, the ships are well balanced, the logic on most of it is sound.  However, I fully expect errata to be made very quickly, specifically, taking damage to your steering should not make turning easier - but that could have been a simple -/+ typo.  Also, the target die is a standard 6-sider, everything else is a 12-sider except they aren't 1-12, but 1-4, 1-6, 1-8, 1-10 and 1-12.

"How did you make that work?"  
"We totally loaded them to roll certain ways."  
"Oh, ok."

Think I'll stick with rolling standard dice.

The cards are attractive, dry-erase friendly and easy to read once you've played through a game:

I can see many interesting game variations - defend a crippled ship, defend a specific location, add flak effects, add command ship effects, victory points, etc.  This game really has the potential to be a great hook for folks who enjoy mini games to get back into them for not really a whole lot of start-up money.  It is also something that a game shop could demo quickly and easily without a lot of set-up.

Catalyst Game Labs has done very well with this one.

GenCon 2011 - Reflections on "the Best 4 Days in Gaming"

Generally speaking, I try to buy stuff in a manner that is most efficient, that often means buying early/planning ahead.  That's what I did this time, it didn't work out well:
Above is a picture of the hallway soon after I got in line.

Now we're 2 hours into the line.

Here's that hallway under normal conditions.

We got there at 8:15ish, and it still took me the better part of 2.5 hours to get through the line.  I cannot imagine what those who were outside on the sidewalk experienced in trying to get their will-call tickets.  Oh well, live and learn.

In the meantime, why are there generic tickets and then specific event tickets - obviously because you can control the number of participants in any activity.  However, just as it does at the local county fair, it functions to create a disconnect between the expenditure of money and the cost of things - who cares that it costs 2-3-4 tickets, but I sure as hell wouldn't pay $8 dollars for something - shit, I just did.  For future reference, plan exactly what you want to participate in, buy those tickets, then get a handful of generic tickets to do stuff like the BattleTech VR Pods or the random pick-up demo game/discussion panel.

So what was fun and interesting you ask?  Well, the BattleTech Pods were fun, and I would have liked to have gotten in again, an hour wait wasn't in the cards.

Giant dice were:

Not into giant dice, how about a *life-size* troll?  I'm 5'10" and came to just above the tip of his nose.

Not into monsters, how about Mechs?

Still not doing it for ya? Then you'll just have to read the next entry with some pics of the various tabletop games.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Challenge of the dice

I've never really paid a lot of attention to non-dice based games. But I got to experience the joy of just such a creation last night. The honor of which goes to The Game of Thrones boardgame - yes, I know I'm way behind the curve on this one, never having read the books or played the game before now. But that said, the sheer number of games at GenCon that are not dice based leads me to think that I will have to explore this concept more closely.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Exhibition Hall day one

Let me be clear, the exhibition (vendor) hall is huge - probably 200 yards to a side with 15 or so rows - huge. We spent easily 2 hours walking it yesterday and didn't play test any demos and only got to the halfway point. Granted we did spend a few minutes talking to Larry Elmore while getting him to sign some prints.

I'm surprised at how much Dr. Who stuff is here - I guess steampunk is back in a big way. There are at least 5 leather shops on the vendor floor and a couple more steampunk attire locales.

As a note of reference, vendors please man your booths with people who can speak English in an effective manner. Also, fanboys for your product are great, however, they do not make great employees or demonstrators.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 1 - Fini

We arrived at the convention center about 8:15 and found a nearby parking meter that was, in the short-term, better than the $20/day cost of the garage. In we walked. First was the pre-ordered and delivered badges with 2 people in line. Next was the purchase day-of section with about 10 people in line. Then came HELL, officially known as will-call. The obvious line was about 30 people, then the less obvious line separated by the concourse, then the 300 yard line to the opposite side of the building, and the curling end of about 20 yards back towards the main part of the building - What have I done to myself?

1 hour and 40 minutes later I crossed the concourse, the line now mirrored itself, then curled outside for an unknown distance - I didn't care how long it was at that point. Then the first really good thing happened, "if your name is between A and Dj, move to the will call sign and get your badge." I have my badge, time to call and find out where everybody is - crap, they are now in line for tickets - where? WAIT, now I have to get fucking tickets too?

Well, another 30 minutes in line and I have 10 generic tickets - BattleTech VR simulator here we come. "Hey Paul, you don't have your goody bag.". "What goodie bag and where's Nate?". Another 20 minutes in line and I have a free copy of Rift, a Magic booster deck and a ton of coupons for free shit. Battletech time you say? Nope, time to head to the hotel for check-in - Argh!!!!

Will-call: Bad call

So yeah, worst decision so far was to participate in will-call. Early delivery had 1 person in line, purchase tickets the day of had 10 people in line, will-call has, from my position in line about 500-1000 people ahead of me, more than that now behind me. Apparently Blogger doesn't like to upload iPhone pics so expect them later.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

GenCon Bound

Leaving for GenCon.  Check in often for updates from Indy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

DCC review part 2

I do not feel inclined to play this system again. 

Starting with a handful of random names, numbers, backgrounds, even if allowed to customize each one, still inserts to much of a degree of randomness.  From a power-gaming perspective, there are effectively only two methods of character creation that should be followed.  Each player should create each of the four fundamental character types or each player should create multiple versions of what they want to play so that the survivors are most likely to cover standard party needs and be something the player wants to play.  I'm also not inclined to want to have a starting character (though proven to be indifferent in Hackmaster) trying to "run" with higher level characters - making the funnel just a mechanic for playing 0-level characters.

Both magic path systems provide interesting development options, but at a cost that is probably a little too steep at the outset and just irritating at higher levels.

Certainly having disapproval (or whatever the term is) of the divine spell casting path makes the cleric more interesting and not the standard heal-bot.  However, such limitations on spell-casting make an already underpowered caster even less effective when combined with the silly "turn everything opposed to you" mechanic.  If the mechanic were scaled back to a more limited target: undead, outsiders, beasts, etc. - it would make for a more directed (and possibly interesting) character and limit "wasted" turning attempts and reduce disapproval build-up.

Corruption of an arcane spell caster is a pretty common theme in media and makes some sense as it relates our generally perceived ideas of magical addiction.  However, using this type of rolled 1 mechanic is specifically punishing spell-casters.  Certainly, the ability to continue casting spells as long as you don't fail a roll is powerful, but so is being able to swing a sword or fire a bow indefinitely and there isn't much punishment for a thief or fighter rolling a 1 - saving dropping a weapon, getting it stuck or breaking a bow string.  To balance that playing field, why not have the weapon wielder remove a finger/toe/eye/ear leading to them being "freaks" in the same manner as the arcane casters eventually become?  I know, because magic is so powerful, but a one-eyed, hook-handed, peg-legged barkeep is a great NPC.

Luck dice are just an added complication that people will often forget about or misuse (cheat) because they don't fully understand the mechanic and/or if it does or does not apply to every character and does or does not apply to each roll.  I'm not saying dumb it down, but it seems there could be a more effective implementation of this type of "bonus".

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Popping the Hardcore Cherry

We rolled up characters for Labyrinth Lord (effectively original DnD) last week.  The players agreed to go "hardcore", meaning 3d6 straight down the line.  I know that two of the players really enjoy this type of game, one of the players has played enough RPGs to appreciate this, but one of the players gaming experience is limited to 3.5/Pathfinder and WoD (old rules).  Initially, I was concerned that this style of game might be more than she would be comfortable with - she proved me wrong and jumped right on board with the hardcore style.  The one non-hardcore option I invoked was to give them more starting funds than they would normally have.  In retrospect, I didn't really care, but maybe I was trying to give them a bit more survivability - weakness in a DM for a hardcore group, it will not happen again.

So here's what was rolled up:

My plan is to run them through a series of the "best of" modules for DnD - starting with The Keep on the Borderlands, then The Temple of Elemental Evil, Tomb of Horrors and into Against the Giants.  Maybe overly grand plans for an every-other-week group, but a guy can dream can't he?

I'm thinking I'll use the Locks & Keys document provided by -C on Hack & Slash where appropriate.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Knights of Badassdom - umm, yes please

Well, since Dungeons and Dragons and Your Highness did so well at the box office, I guess Hollywood decided to try again to tap into the gaming market.

Thus, I present to you:
Knights of Badassdom

(as seen previewed at Comic Con)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Game Cobbling

So there are things I really like about various editions of Dungeons and Dragons.  There are things I detest about various editions of Dungeons and Dragons.  There are things I love about World of Darkness.  There are things I detest about World of Darkness.  There are...you get the picture.

So how come somebody doesn't put together a game that actually uses all the stuff that is most liked and gets rid of all the stuff that isn't liked?  -C joking said that we should just cobble a game system together that includes all the stuff we seem to like - detailed lock picking methods, crit tables, exploding dice, HP kickers, trap searching descriptions, limited mini-use combat - just to name a few.

So how does one do this and still maintain some conformity of system?  I guess we could just use a dozen different rule books, or get the pdfs and print out the sections we wanted, combined into a binder, but damn if that doesn't seem like a recipe for disaster, not to mention rules abuse.  While I have confidence in our current group not having a problem playing appropriately, we've had so many players want to "lawyer-up" to "win" the game.  I still don't think they have figured out that RPG's are not about winning.

So what should we do?  Suck it up and deal with the aspects of a system we don't like?  Spend hours/days trying to piecemeal a system we like, only to find huge gaping holes once we start playing it?  There is no perfect system, but is there a perfect solution?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Serenity/Firefly = Cowboy Bebop

So a bit off topic post today, but having watched the entire Serenity/Firefly (S/F) series over the weekend while tending to my recovering wife, I came to the realization that S/F and Cowboy Bebop (CB) are the same.

Though S/F has more characters, they are effectively just split versions of the CB crew.  I'm not going to go into the specific details of exactly how everything breaks down, but it is pretty easy to draw the comparisons if you have seen the shows.  If not, get them, watch them, enjoy them and appreciate them for the decent shows they are.  Each is less than 20 episodes and it's pretty easy to watch multiple episodes in a row.

How does this relate to gaming, well, my DM/GM/ST (-C) has been watching Stargate and has a pretty well developed space-based campaign setting that he barely got started before the group fell apart - something about one of the PCs choosing to urinate on an NPC.  Anyway, once we finish up the DCC beta, probably at or just after the end of the summer, maybe we'll move into that environment.  I'd very much welcome a change of scenery from the high fantasy worlds we've been playing in for the past couple of years.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A take on human standards

As I sit in the waiting area of a hospital, it gives the opportunity to evaluate people from an objective perspective.  Everybody here is here for somebody else, everbody here has their own things going.  Nobody is here for fun or just to pass the time.

The fellow next to me didn't get any sleep last night because of relationship issues.  He's in a relationship with a quote: "much younger girl", he can't be over 30 and he descibes the relationship as exclusive, but there's another man involved.

So why am I telling you this?  Because as a DM, crafting a new world, this is the kind of stuff you have to consider.  You have to populate your world with people you don't understand, doing things you can't imagine doing, in ways that don't make any sense to you.

I can't provide any special insight into humanity, only that the next time you decide to start crafting your world, spend a little time at an ER/surgery waiting room, the local VFW post or a local college student union.  Watch, listen, take a few notes, you'll be surprised at just how varied humanity can really be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Quotes and Notes

I've been thinking back over some of the best at-the-table quotes from the numerous groups I've played with.  Thought I'd share a few:

DM: "You feel kinda funny."
Player (Husband of DM, mage): "Like ha-ha funny?"
Dm: "No, like you lost a level funny."

Player (standing on the back of a ship in middle of the ocean, druid): "If you are going to jump, jump now."  Proceeds to throw an entire necklace of fireballs at his feet.

Player (fighter): "They never put minotaurs on the first level of dungeon."

Player (mage): "I am unkillable."
DM: "Roll a save vs. death, you'll need a 20."
Player rolls - 20.
DM: "Damn you."

Other players around the table: "Why are knocking the lizardmen back into the water?!?!?!"
Player (druid): "And now, the dire shark."

Players (4 in horrible Scottish accents) in unison: "BEER!!!! and PICKLES!?!?!"

Player (paladin): "I take off all my armor and stand in the middle of the road waiting on the giants."

Player (druid): "How come I can't talk to the ogre about joining us before he attacks?"

Player (paladin to town guard): "Don't you know who I am?  Can't you see I'm wearing the hat!"

Player (monk): "Forget the stick, use the kick."

DM: "What's your AC?"
Player (fighter): "-8"
DM: "Bullshit, let me see your character sheet.  Plate +(inaudible), Shield +(inaudible), +Dex bonus and magic buff - shit, ok."

Player (berserker): "I challenge the hobgoblin chief to a one-on-one battle for leadership of the tribe."
DM: "Ok, he's about 4 levels higher than you."
Player: "Oh well."
Several dice rolls later...
Player: "My army is now at your service fellow adventurers."

Players: "Wait, we're level 3, that's a beholder."
DM: "Some of you should survive the encounter."

More to come as I remember them.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Contestants to the front

Most of you who read my blog also read HackSlashMaster so you already know.  Those of you who don't, here ya go.

Design a dungeon room contest.

Only got till August 2nd (my birthday by the way).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Board Games - missed a few

While I understand the PC nature of advertising and marketing these days, wouldn't it be refreshing to see people not get bent out of shape over a game?  Here's a list of a few that just wouldn't cut it in today's market - though I'd like to give Ghettopoly and Bomber uber England a go.

Board Games

Speaking of non-PC games, anybody ever played Pimp: the Backhand?  I never got a chance to play it, I played Vampire: The Eternal Struggle some (collected quite a few cards).